Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guest Post: Sarah Lynn on Major Revisions


By Sarah Lynn 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Revision.

It’s a struggle to see the manuscript through different eyes, to know where to cut, where to add, when to scrap the whole thing. There’s revision on your own, revision with the help of critique partners, and revision with an editor. I’m a pleaser, so when an editor makes an editing suggestion I pretty much jump to complete it. This has worked for me in some situations, and not in others.

Sometimes I’ve been so eager to make a sale or please the editor that I lose sight of my own vision and in so doing my story loses its spark, its originality, its voice, its momentum, etc. But sometimes an editor’s comments can change my entire perspective on a manuscript.

Inspiration!
The writing of 1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom—A Counting Book, illustrated by Daniel Griffo, is an example of the latter.

This original manuscript was titled “If Numbers Were Racetracks.” I had this whole vision that the illustrations would show children actually driving on racetracks shaped like numbers.

I got the idea when I was trying to teach my oldest son how to write his numbers. Like many five-year old boys, he avoided holding that pencil at all costs. So I made those vroom, vroom car noises little kids love and told him we’d play an imaginary game. I pretended the pencil was actually a car, and the pencil was drawing its own track (shaped like numbers).

He couldn’t wait for his turn. He picked up the pencil right away. Inspiration struck. If my son was more likely to practice writing letters this way, then maybe others would be, too.

The original text was very different than what is published today. This is an example of the benefits of being willing to revise drastically. The original text was slow and lilting. Here’s a taste.

If numbers were racetracks,

I’d rev my engines, Vroom, vroom,

Driving so fast

The crowds and cars would blur together.

Then I’d slam on the brakes

With a screech.

For number one.

If numbers were racetracks,

I’d turn my wheel hard,

Skidding down for a quick loop

And out

Past the pit stop

And my crew

For number two.

And so on…

Get the picture? Does this sound like a racecar book? It did to me. The manuscript was rejected multiple times, but when my editor at Marshall Cavendish (now Amazon Children’s Publishing) read it, she told me it had potential, but that it wasn’t fast paced enough for a racecar book.

She had a point. She also felt that it would be too complex for the racetracks to actually be shaped like numbers. So, I revised. And revised. And revised. The ending text is more snappy and fast-paced. Here is a taste of the end result.

Lap One!

Checkered flag.

Seat belt strapped!

Helmet snapped!

Screeching down the lane!

Va-va-vroom!

Lap Two!

Crouch down low.

Give it gas.

Try to pass,

zooming for the lead!

Va-va-vroom!

And so on…

So much more engaging, right?

Sarah's older boys creating a "road" for matchbox cars.
And fun to read-aloud. When I read this story at school visits or signings, I bring a bunch of matchbox cars and pass them out. I let the kids hold them in their hands, and they can “drive” the shape of the letter in the air as we say together, “Va-Va-Vroom!”

This is a good example of how an editor’s vision can really guide our work. The cost of revision is minimal. In this day and age, it’s simple to save each version as a separate file on my computer.

If I make a revision that doesn’t work, all I’m out is the time it took to rewrite it.

I also know that editors see the big picture. They have to consider the quality of the work, what it will compete with on the market, whether it will appeal to its intended audience, whether it’s different enough from what already exists, and a zillion other factors that wouldn’t occur to me.

So I say, “revise!” Take time to consider an editor’s suggestions, no matter how drastic. But in the end, don’t lose sight of your own vision either.

Cynsational Notes

Sarah Lynn is the author of (1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom! A Counting Book (Amazon, 2012)(formerly Marshall Cavendish) and Tip-Tap Pop (Marshall Cavendish, 2010).


Cynsational Screening Room

4 comments:

laurasalas said...

Fun! Love seeing the before and after versions--thanks for sharing this.

catherinemjohnson said...

Thanks for sharing these very different drafts. As a Formula One fan I definitely feel the speed of the second one. I can't believe how different it is.

I love your book Tip-Tap Pop btw!

Cathy Mealey said...

Great to learn how editorial input helped shape the book! Very interesting and informative post.

E.B. Black said...

I thought the first one was great, too, then you showed me the second and it was so much better! I just gave my manuscript to my editor recently and I'm so excited. Already with just the sample she did for me, she's helped me a bunch and convinced me to change one thing that my beta readers tried to tell me to change, but I wouldn't listen to them.

So yea, editors are great!

Thanks for the insight too on what it's like to write a children's book.

I also thought your book idea was a great one!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...